Saturday, March 14, 2009

Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 5th ave at 82nd Raphael to Renoir: Drawings from the collection of Jean Bonna. through April 26

The Bonna collection is a pretty impressive one, and one that covers 400 years of drawing from the late Renaissance to the post impressionists. While it's called "Raphael to Renoir" it actually starts before the former and ends after the later. It also contains only one work from Raphael, and one from Renoir. Maybe the curator had a bias for alliteration. I don't know. It could just as easily be called "Nature and Religion in Drawing" because the subject matter is almost always one or the other, or both. Frequently it's one in the service or the other. It covers pretty much all facets of drawing during the period, from tight detailed studies to loose nearly abstract exercises.

The show is broken into three rooms. The first covers the late Renaissance where you'll see some prominent names like Del Sarto, Carracci, Raphael (of course), and a wonderfully elegant pen and ink drawing by Parmigianino. There is a lot of light handed virtuoso handling of the medium in this room, whether it's chalk, ink, or in a few cases watercolor . Most of this work was meant as studies for paintings, but several were created as independent artworks.

The second room moves to France and the Netherlands in the late 16th century to cover the more secular Baroque era. This starts with a couple of Claude Lorrain ink landscapes that are pure effortless poetry. That light graceful character fills the room, but is only equaled by the chalk drawings of Watteau, Boucher, and Greuze. I was also very conscious of the influence of the Commedia Dell' Art on the artists of the time. Not just on the French artists mentioned, but in a drawing by a 70 year old Tiepolo. Who was, coincidentally the only Italian in the room. At least I think it was a coincidence.

The last room covers the late 18th and 19th century, or late neo-classicism through post impressionism. If you're wondering how something can be both late and neo, just trust me. Almost all of the artists in this section are French, and apart from a few delicate drawings by Ingres, the handling of the materials gets more expressive, painterly and physical. There are a few furiously rendered ballet dancers by Degas, and a wonderfully spontaneous Cezanne watercolor that looks like it could have been drawn by the rain.

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